CHICAGO — The opening montage of Candace Parker’s Title IX documentary features clips of her playing career from Naperville (Ill.) Central to Tennessee, the Los Angeles Sparks and the Chicago Sky.
“That’s me. Candace Parker. Two-time NCAA champion. Two-time WNBA MVP. Two-time WNBA champion. Two-time AP Female Athlete of the Year,” says Parker. “But none of this could have happened 50 years ago.”
Through the lens of Parker’s rise, “Title IX: 37 Words That Changed America” tells the story of the evolution of women’s sports in the 50 years since Title IX was enacted, with appearances by Billie Jean King , Lisa Leslie, Condoleezza Rice and many more.
The documentary was a passion project for its star and executive producer. Parker, with her company Baby Hair Productions, partnered with Turner Sports and Scout Productions to make it happen.
On his way to receive the city’s Title IX Leader Award at an event that also honored King and DePaul’s trainer Doug Bruno, Parker took time to talk to the Chicago Tribune about the documentary, his future in the means and the changes that are still needed. for women in sport. This interview was edited for clarity.
— Why did you want to make the documentary and how did it come about?
— This was something that has been brewing for two or three years. My agent and marketing, we always get together and they ask me, “What’s your passion? What do you want to do?” And two or three years ago, I told them that I wanted to create something with the upcoming anniversary of Title IX because I feel like this is something that my generation has benefited from in the sense that many people before me have opened the doors. to be able to do what I love and feel empowered and have opportunities to learn life skills but also to be able to play a sport.
In a way, I fall into the unique position of being between my mother and my daughter. My mom was a senior in high school in 1972 when Title IX was enacted, so she didn’t have the same opportunities that I did. And I felt that it was necessary to tell that story from the perspective of someone who has really benefited from it. If I had come a generation earlier, my life could be very different.
It’s just one of those exciting projects. I did a project on that in eighth grade. I’ve always been interested in learning about women in leadership positions, and Title IX was a big step toward that.
— What did you learn doing it, either about the history of women’s sports or about the people you worked with or about the production?
– I learned a lot. I have great respect for the amount of time and energy that goes into documentaries and the amount of forethought that needs to happen. The storytelling was something that was uplifting and inspiring to me. There is a women’s wrestling team that is in the documentary, and I was able to visit their school. So just to know that we’re still struggling, in different ways, things that we’ve been struggling with for 50 years and before that. So that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned, that we’ve come this far but we still have a lot more things to do to make sure we’re leveling the playing field.
— What was that experience like visiting Andrew’s girls’ wrestling team?
— It was incredible to be able to be in the gym with people who don’t even understand that they are pioneers in what they are doing, that because of them they take risks and do something that is not necessarily popular. or a custom of girls, they are allowing others to be more of themselves. Just to talk to them in the room, it was amazing to see their resilience, and they definitely inspired me because you’re looking at the future leaders of business, of wrestling, of whatever.
— The segment on Pat Summitt was powerful. What did playing under a trailblazer like that do for you, not only on the basketball court but also in life?
— I feel like you can read words and you can be inspired by people telling you things and stories, but to live it and see it in action… she was a trailblazer for Title IX but she was a trailblazer for women leaders. in all fields. So to see her as a mother balance everything that she balanced while she continues to push everything forward. She is not satisfied. She lives her words every day in the way she works. I am inspired by her as an individual and a person, but also as someone who has truly improved the world.
People talk about “legacy” all the time and what it means, but it’s leaving something better because you were a part of it. And she did that our entire lives, for the Tennessee program but also for women’s sports in general.
— Much of the documentary is about your journey, and ever since you got into high school you’ve been an icon of women’s and girls’ sports. How have you handled the pressure or expectations that come with it?
— I don’t know if I ever stopped to think. I wanted to be big. I come from a competitive family, and it was never like, “Hey, Candace, you’re a girl, so these should be your dreams, and this is going to be a lot of pressure.” I was just trying to be better than my brothers. I was just trying to win. When you focus on that and you focus on the process of getting better… we always talk about how losses, missteps and things like that make you better, and that’s how you see it. I didn’t see anything as a final failure, so I think that helped.
I keep a close circle, so I care what my family says and what they think and how I play. But when I read things in the newspaper, I realize everything, especially nowadays, it’s about right now and hot shots and things like that. So I really feel like your story is still being continuously written.
— For me, especially as a woman in sports media, one of the important things she’s done off the court is her analysis for Turner Sports. How have you become that? And you talked about your passion for producing. Is that a future for you, both behind the camera and in front of the camera?
— I would love that. I fell in love with television and I am extremely grateful because it is quite difficult to find a passion in life and I have been able to have two a little bit. I love to talk about basketball. Don’t tell Turner, but I’d do it for free in terms of just sitting on my couch and talking about basketball. I mean, is that my job? It’s crazy. It’s the second best job in the world.
So to be able to do that and now to be able to explore producing and directing and things like that… the biggest thing that I’ve taken away as a basketball player, as an analyst, as a producer is if you’re authentic to what you’re producing and it’s authentic to you and your story and what you’re trying to convey, it looks that way on screen and it looks that way on the pitch and it looks that way in terms of personality. So that’s something that I’ve learned to stay authentic to who I am and what stories are important to tell.
— You mentioned earlier that you didn’t think about your dreams through the lens of being a girl. There was a moment in the documentary where you were talking about commanding respect from men on TV and in business and how sports has given you the confidence to know you deserve to be in the room. Are you aware of the impact you are having on both the media and sports business as a woman in male-dominated fields?
– I don’t know if that’s the approach. The approach is that I want to get to a place where women don’t have to cringe to get into rooms and women can demand the kind of respect and lack of questioning. I thought it was really interesting when you meet someone and they talk about how women shouldn’t be in sports or broadcast sports or whatever, and they’re like, “You’ve never played in the NBA.” Well, Stephen A. Smith doesn’t either. He has never played in the NBA, and you take your opinion from him. So he’s just trying to remove that double standard, and it’s something that every woman in this world is walking into rooms with, I hope, with the intention of removing that double standard.
And that’s how I am. I want to be authentically me. And I shouldn’t have to apologize for having an opinion or being passionate or competitive. I have always been encouraged to be Candace since I was little. So that’s what I’m bringing to theaters, and hopefully through that people see that it’s in the individual and it’s not a feminine or a masculine thing.
— The end of the documentary was looking forward to the progress that still needs to be made for women in sports. What kind of world would you like for your daughter, and also for your son, when they are your age?
— I have always talked about mentality. … I was lucky enough to grow up in a home where we didn’t have gender roles and there was nothing like, “Oh, you can’t do that because you’re a girl.” Our curfews were no different. However, I feel like we need to achieve that across the board, not just because of the home you grow up in.
My hope is that my daughter and my son… I mean, listen, sports are important, but sports are important because they teach you the life skills you need to be able to survive after sports are gone. The ball will stop bouncing for everyone, whether in high school, college, or professionally. As long as you do, you still have to have those life skills, and I think having the opportunity and the mindset that you’re not less than because you’re a woman or you’re not less than because you’re an African American woman. , I think that’s important. So when (they’re) my age, I want my son or daughter to walk into the room and know that she’s either the best person for the job or she’s not the best person for the job.
Obviously, there are a lot of things that we have to do to make that happen, and one of those things is that we are very reactive in our country and not proactive. So what are the things that we can implement to reach certain milestones or reach certain percentages of people at the table, whether it’s in business or sports? And I think it’s going to be a step in the right direction.
— Is there anything else you want to add about the documentary?
— I don’t know if you saw the softball part where we talked about high school. This mentality is built over time, from a fourth grader receiving a second-hand uniform while the children receive a new one. That is a mindset that is developing through the society that you are less of.
It’s important for people in general to understand that it’s not just about college. This is high school. This is elementary. This is basic, and it’s important for parents when they see something and see that it’s not right to get involved to change it. Because you never know how many people you’re going to impact if you don’t stay quiet and make sure things are going in the right direction.
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